Interview with Bernice Johnson Reagon
FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

Reagon, SR 1540

FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

(Okay, that was a roll out on 591, going to 592.)

Bernice Johnson Reagon:

When I was in mass meetings…

FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

(HOLD ON ONE SECOND, MARK THIS, OKAY)

Bernice Johnson Reagon:

…When I was in a mass meeting, I don't think about excitement uh, I'm not a butterfly person, I've never been a butterfly, a nervous person. I think about being, what, what I can remember is being alive and knowing what I was doing. Being where I was supposed to be. That was the way it was in jail too and on the marches, it was like – for the first time, being so clear. And you know the verse in Steal Away that says 'God is on our side,' there was a theological discussion that said- maybe we should say, 'we are on God's side.' But you know, God was lucky to have us in Albany doing what we were doing. I mean what better case would he have? And so it was really like God would be very, very happy to be on my side. And there's a bit of arrogance about that but that was the way it felt, and what I think about is just being very alive and very clear, the clearest I've ever been in my life, that every minute, I was doing what I was supposed to do.

FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

(Stop now.) (Hold on.)

Bernice Johnson Reagon:

Uh, I think Albany settled (Reagon, SR 1540) the issue of jail and I think songs helped to do that because in the songs YOU Could just name the people who were trying to use this against you -Asa Kelly, who was the Mayor; Chief Pritchard, who was the Police. And this behavior is new behavior for black people in the United States of America. You would every once in a while have a crazy black person going up against some white person and they would hang him. But this time the…we were like, with a song, the…there was, you…there was nothing they could do to block in fact, what we were saying. Not only did you call their names and say what you wanted to say, but they could not stop your sound. And it's different than talking, singing is different than talking because no matter what they do, they would have to kill me to stop me from singing, if they were arresting me. Sometimes they would plead and say - please stop singing. And you would just know that your word is being heard, and so the…there was a real sense of platform ness and, and clearly empowerment, and it was like just saying -put me in jail, that's not an issue of power. My freedom has nothing to do with putting me in jail. And so like there was this joy, and you know, it was (Reagon, SR 1540) like - oh god, the first time they had a demonstration and Annette got arrested and I had gone to take a test. I was so upset, I was so worried that was going to be the last arrest, but I was lucky.

FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

(OKAY, STOP.) (592, 300 FEET REMAINING) (SPEED, MARK IT.)

Bernice Johnson Reagon:

Um, all of the music that came into Albany changed in Albany and it changed because of who we were, I guess. Uh, and as best I understand it is like - if you have uh, if you have a gold…

FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

(STOP.) (YES, LET'S HAVE A CUT, WE'VE GOT ABOUT 5 MINUTES.)

FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

(SECOND STIX) (SECOND)

Bernice Johnson Reagon:

If you have a gold mine then there is a point in the gold mine where you have the richest part, and that's called the mother load, that's what Albany is to black people, in terms of just the concentrated essence of the spirit of the people. And if you can imagine black people at our most powerful point, in terms of community, and people- hood, then that's Albany, Georgia** during the Albany movement. And the only way you get at it when people talk about the Albany movement, is when they talk about the singing, because they miss everything else because of the way they try to evaluate the movement. And the singing uh, is powerful because when you, (Reagon, SR 1540) it's, what, what black people…what we did in the mass meeting was extend ourselves beyond our bodies. People ask - were you scared? That was not an issue, because if I sang, you have to walk into me, but if it is a people in song, you're walking into a people, and you walk into the people way before you can get to our physical bodies, so there's a way in which bec-…those songs kept us from being touched by people who would want us not to be who we were becoming. And uh, there is a woman at Shiloh Baptist Church who would sing this song for an hour, I mean for an hour, and they talk about black music being repetitious and monotonous, and so - it is not a song anymore, we're not talking about a song. And people are clapping and the feet is going, and she is just looming up and you could hear her three blocks away of Shiloh Baptist Church and that song was, Steal Away. And there's no way for me to sing it the way it's sung, but when I think about song in Albany, I, I'm, I'm not even really thinking about song, I'm thinking about singing, but I'm thinking about singing in a way that we do not have a definition for singing. But like a reflection of who these people are. And if you walk in it with (Reagon, SR 1540) your body, it is not a hearing experience, your ears are not enough, your eyes are not enough, your body is not enough, and you can't block it. The only way you survive the singing is to open up and let go and be moved by the singing to another space, so, the singing really is just used to just move people and for me, I don't know any other kind of singing that's worth my while.